A few months ago, as spring clothes were just trickling into stores, a friend visiting from London described with great relish a dinner she’d had at a private club with a trio of young Richie Riches and their chic wives. “And what were the women wearing?” we asked, visions of slashed McQueens and floaty Stellas and clown-princess Gallianos dancing in our heads. Our friend snorted. “All three of ’em had on Jimmy Choos, jeans, and ratty Chanel jackets.”
The penchant to pair a tweedy, boxy Chanel jacket, real or pretend, with a pair of artfully—and artificially—faded jeans, it turns out, is an international predilection, a craze so virulent that fashionweekdaily.com has proposed adding faux-nel to the dictionary: “Faux-nel: /FO-nelle/ n. A suspiciously chic tweed jacket that looks like a Chanel, but on closer inspection is actually made by another, less expensive brand.”
The rather class-ridden appeal of this style, we suspect, relies on having people think your Chanel has been handed down from Granny or borrowed from Mumsy or, at the very least, bought at Chanel proper, where such garments are selling—and selling out—at $2,800. But all is not lost if you aren’t an heiress and you absolutely must participate in this trend (we ourselves have mixed feelings . . . ). Head at once to ZARA (101 Fifth Avenue), where the best reproductions turn up: A jacket sporting one of Coco’s trademark fabric flowers is $169; an entire coat in white tweed that would be Easter-ish but for its raveled hem is $225; and the real star, a deliciously decomposing jacket in shades of purple and with the added fillip of interwoven metallic threads, costs $189.
At ARDEN B (104 Fifth Avenue), a store we have always associated, perhaps unfairly, with a super-anorexic Sex and the City wannabe clientele, we find a genuinely nice artificial Chanel for $138, in apple green or pearl pink, that features not just artfully disintegrating tulle trim but innovative sequins enlivening the nubbiness. Though it’s difficult to turn up a fake Chanel for under $100 (jackets require a lot more labor than miniskirts or souvenir tees), there is nevertheless a white, pink, and purple ersatz-Chanel jacket currently languishing on a stuffed rack in the back of H&M at 558 Broadway for $49.90. For some reason, all of its seams have been properly finished, depriving the wearer of that ratty-edged grace. (The only loose threads are the unintentional pulls the fabric has suffered at the rough hands of shoppers.)
Of course, a Chanel isn’t the only thing you might have inherited. An entirely different sort of mommy could have passed along a lovingly preserved tie-dyed garment, folded away since the ’60s. These old friends are clearly the inspiration for the tie-dye renaissance engineered by Prada this season, and luckily, as with most things Prada, tie-dyes have surfaced rapidly on the secondary market. CLUB MONACO (160 Fifth Avenue), in particular, has taken a big bite: Here are ruffled minis in tie-dyed pink for $55, bottle-green cotton pullovers whose color fades from deep to pale for $79, and a boyish shirt that dances between blue and white for $89. A word of warning: Do not under any circumstances consider buying a white sweater, as recommended recently by a New York tabloid, and attempting the dying process at home. We tried tie-dying a simple tee some years ago, and the memory of the unspeakable mess and hideous result still haunts.
And why would you even bother, when the ready-made stuff is so cheap? At BANG BANG (53 East 8th Street) there’s a full yellow cotton skirt, tie-dyed in a charming if splotchy fashion, that has a cotton-knit waistband splattered with sequins and is meant to sit low on the hips (or higher if you’re chubbier—who’s going to know?) for $39.99. Price-wise, this is quite a departure from the versions at Prada, where a polo is $230 (possibly the cheapest thing in the store) and a red pullover, very close to the green replica at Club Monaco, is $650. And believe it or not, Prada even sells its own version of the deconstructed Chanel jacket, in gray tweed and with the requisite frayed cuffs. Everything is relative: At $1,295, it’s less than half the cost of the Chanel original.